Lost And Found: Living In The Extreme Present

Why is it that when we find a lost object we are far more happy with the thing we’ve recovered than we were before it went missing? Finding an old hat, or a pair of missing sunglasses can feel like a huge revelation the moment we’re holding them in our hands again. And if the regained objects are something more important, like a wallet or a set of missing keys, the joy is compounded.

It’s strange too, because nothing about any of those things will have changed. Nothing grows, nothing gets more beautiful, nothing sprouts wings or flies about the kitchen, and yet, at least for a while, they all seem to give off a kind of resplendent light. And if what we’ve lost and then found, is something we truly love, like our health or our children, or a lover; then this experience is amplified a thousand times.

Last week, I lost my pet African Leopard tortoise. If I had to qualify the pain of the loss I’d say it stood somewhere between losing my car keys and losing a friend.  While I didn’t cry for the loss of my tortoise –his name by the way, is Dash– I did spend the better part of two or three days thinking about him and grieving over the fact that he’d been carried off by a gang of hungry raccoons and eaten in some remote raccoon redoubt.

I’d cared for Dash for five years, tended to his every need from the time he was a tiny hatchling. I chopped his kale into fine bite-sized pieces; I sprinkled calcium on his strawberries, and changed his water dish several times a day. Whenever I saw him eating I’d feel the same way my Grandma rose must have felt whenever she watched me eating her noodle kugel. “Ess mine kindt,” she’d say in Yiddish, “Ess mine kindt and grow big.”

It’d been three days since I’d seen my tortoise, and in the five years I had him, he’d always come out of the bushes to munch on grass by the time the fog had lifted. After checking our enclosed backyard at least a dozen times, he was simply nowhere to be found. When I spotted a series of raccoon paw prints running up the white stucco walls of our courtyard, I knew he was a goner.  Raccoons are notoriously intelligent and ravenous, reptiles being one of their favorite delicacies. 

During the three days of Dash’s disappearance I reconciled myself to his loss. ‘He’s just a turtle,’ I told myself, ‘he’s not a kid, just deal with it.’ And so I did, I dealt with it.

But then yesterday, as I was sitting in my car listening to some music, my wife walked up to the driver’s side window with a strange smile. “Have you seen this?” she asked. I had no idea what she was talking about.

When she showed me a photo of my tortoise, wedged between a heavy clay planter and our courtyard wall, it took me a few moments to process what I was seeing. I recognized the planter and ran to it. There was my tortoise, in a beam of sunlight, his head and limbs drawn deep inside his shell. I moved the planter away from the wall to free him, picked him up and held him to my chest. As surprised as I was that he was still alive, I couldn’t help being aware that a sense of pure joy was washing over me.

I’m a fairly happy person. Without a doubt, I’ve been blessed with many good things, but in spite of those blessings, I’m also aware how often I take them for granted, how often I’m needing that –extra thing, that additional achievement, that as-yet-undone accomplishment, that I believe will finally bring me to a place of joy.

As I stood there with a ridiculous grin, holding my tortoise, I understood how infrequently I’m cognizant of the beauty of what I actually have in my life. And I was mindful then too, in that flash of a moment, how incredible it would be to have a clearer consciousness, not of some fantastical and distant future, but of the simple joy of the extreme present.

When we find something we’ve lost, or more precisely perhaps, when we regain our lost perspective (which is exactly what happens at the moment we find that lost thing) we also regain a microcosmic sense of what’s most truthful about our lives; that we, in spite of our forgetfulness, are living in a miracle with every breath we take.

And I have my tortoise, Dash, to thank for that.

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